The Avengers and Mozart

Mozart came up in conversation the other day, as he does from time to time.

Me: Cosi is the only Mozart opera I’ve ever seen.

Dan: I love Cosi.  It’s fantastic.

Me: It’s boring.  So boring.

Dan: What do you mean?

Me: Nothing happens.  For four hours.

Dan: What do you mean nothing happens?  In each act, every part gets an aria, and then each pair of lovers gets an aria, and then each cross-pair of lovers gets an aria…

After some more argument in which I exaggerate Mozart’s already-straightforward plot (basically: “Two guys decide to dress up as Albanians and seduce one anothers’ girlfriends, and this goes about as well for all parties as can be expected, but things come out all right in the end and we reset to starting conditions”), Dan points out that if I come to Mozart opera looking for emotionally effective drama without thinking about the music, I’ll be disappointed.  If I don’t get into the music as music, then of course I won’t appreciate the plot, because the music gives the plot its energy.

Which, of course, got us thinking about the Avengers, where combat works in much the same way music does in opera–to the point where you can imagine an operatic staging of the movie.  (NB: I loved the Avengers, but I can see how someone like my mother-in-law, say, who isn’t a superhero movie kind of person, would be confused by why all these folks tend to duke it out first, and ask questions later.)  Leaving Hawkeye aside for a second, since he’s only a “good guy” for the final fight scene, we’re introduced to five main characters, each of whom has a markedly different personality, power set, and screen presence–and each of whom falls neatly into a different operatic voice.

Character Power Voice
Tony Stark Iron Man Such a tenor
Thor God of Thunder Heldenbaritone
Captain America Supersoldier Heldentenor
Bruce Banner Hulk Banner: Countertenor?
Hulk: Dramatic Bass
Natasha Romanov Super-spy Alto


(These are just my guesses-folks with more opera background should feel free to debate.  I’m especially uncertain about Banner’s voice, but I do like the fact that the deep bass you’d need for the Hulk could drive a nice countertenor.)

We’re introduced to each of these characters alone, as the center of an action scene, or aria.  Captain America vs. the Punching Bags, Thor’s stealing Loki from the hoverjet, Tony Stark’s building of Stark Tower, Black Widow owning three Russian mafiosi while tied to a chair–even Bruce Banner we first see alone, though he doesn’t become the focus of a scene until he Hulks Out in Act II (and when he does, even though Black Widow’s there, she’s just reacting to the Hulk for the first several minutes).

The battles throughout the movie never pit the same group of characters against one another twice, and are careful to pit all the characters against one another at least once, even when (as in the Iron Man-Thor fight scene) the fight makes little sense in context.  We don’t care, watching, because we want to see these characters, with these specific styles, fight–in the same way that even if there’s no real reason for the bass and soprano to be singing together, we won’t frown at an excellently-composed duet.  In fact, it’s these duets that show us the true quality of our characters, and illuminate the tensions between them–tensions which simmer under the surface when they’re in the same room and can’t use violence and action to communicate.

Once everyone has had the chance to duet with everyone else, we get the full-on finale, in which the Avengers reprise their earlier duets, harmonizing with one another this time rather than against one another (Black Widow and Cap vs. Chitauri, Hulk and Thor vs. flying snake thing, Iron Man & Thor vs. the airborne chariots, etc.).  Meanwhile, two choruses throw down in the background (the Chitauri and the people of New York), and in the end Tony Stark takes center stage and spotlight for his death aria, only to have surprise support arrive from underneath in the form of the Hulk’s bass.

Thinking about the movie this way brings out something I hadn’t noticed before: the extent to which voice, the simple act of talking, is dangerous in this film.  Words and dialogue hide traps and barbs.  Some of the best comic moments also turn on the definitions of words and the moral weight we attach to them. (“He’s my brother!” “He killed 80 people.”  “He’s adopted?”)  When our heroes are talking to one another, they’re at odds, doomed to self-destruction.  Black Widow’s turning-of-tables on Loki is really neat, and/but reinforces this fact: language is a trap, in which even the master trapper can be caught.  Language provides openings for the bad guys–Loki’s spell provokes, and derives power from, argument.  And (SPOILER) Agent Coulson’s fate, being struck from behind while chatting up the big bad (/SPOILER) just reinforces this theme.  When our heroes talk, they squabble and are vulnerable; when they act, they become a team.  Loki, when last we see him, is (SPOILER) bound, and more importantly, gagged (SPOILER). Fascinating angle, especially since Joss Whedon’s often thought of as a master of dialogue (or at least, of a certain kind of dialogue).  I’ll have to puzzle over this some more.

But that all pales before the thought of HOW AWESOME AN AVENGERS OPERA WOULD BE.  Any musicians out there want to help me take a crack at it?

3 Responses to “The Avengers and Mozart”

  1. Roddy McCorley

    Interesting. By an odd coincidence, my son and I went to see the movie for a second time. This time through, he was struck by the way the music built throughout the film. It was very similar to the way you describe the characters’ “voices” being used before coming together at the end.

  2. max

    Good point! I was too sucked in to the film when I saw it Sunday to notice much about the score (save for one or two key points), but I’ll listen for that on my next viewing. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if they’re developing leitmotifs for the characters, like in Wagner or Star Wars.


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